Kitten Growth Chart – Newborn Kittens

Here are Libby's newborn babies, cuddling together for warmth in the birthing box as Libby gets something to eat.

So now you have a tiny litter of perfect little miniature cats. Well, maybe not perfect yet.

At birth, the kittens’ eyes are sealed closed because they have not finished developing yet, and the ears are also sealed on the inside. The kitten relies on its sense of smell to find one of its mother’s teats and get suckling.

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This is Reed on her first day out.

This is Reed on her first day out.

Each kitten will recognize its own smell on the first teat it uses, and so each of the kittens in a litter will end up with its own teat. Mother cats have eight teats. Sometimes if the litter is not very big, the unused teats will “dry up” or stop producing milk. If the litter is too big (more than eight babies), the runt might not get to feed very frequently as it will not have a teat of its own.

Cats don’t seem to be able to count, which if you’re a newborn kitten can be a pro or a con.

Pro: Quite often, a new mother cat will adopt kittens from another litter. If two cats give birth at roughly the same time and one mum has too many while the other does not have enough (in terms of kitten to teat ratio), you can transfer the ‘extras’ from the overloaded mum to the other mum. She probably won’t even notice an extra kitten or two. Baker and Lance’s friend Scribbles tells us of a case where a new mother cat rejected her entire litter (Baker supports her in this decision, saying kittens are noisy, smelly, and little attention stealers, and he doesn’t believe in them). According to Scribbles, another mother cat in the house had enough love to go around and ended up raising both litters herself.

Con: Usually within a week of giving birth, a mother cat’s instincts tell her it’s time to move the babies. The birthing area can be quite smelly and in the wild the smell will give away the litter’s location to predators. So a move seems like a good idea to most cats. However, since she can’t count, a mama cat is quite likely to leave one of her little ones behind in the move. If you happen to come home one day and find one poor solitary kitten crying by himself in the birthing box, quite likely this is what happened. If the mother cat hears him crying, she’ll go back for him, but if she’s moved to an entirely different location, as in the case of a feral stray cat who birthed three kittens in an abandoned car in our neighgbour’s yard and then subsequently moved two of them to under our porch, you can help out by relocating the forgotten kitten yourself. If you’re dealing with a stray, there is a possibility she will reject a kitten who smells like human, so wear clean gloves to do the move, and try to placate the mum with a nice offering of tuna or tinned cat food.

Here's a close-up of the four babies suckling. It's their first meal!

Here’s a close-up of the four babies suckling. It’s their first meal!

When your kittens are newborns, they are unable to regulate their own body heat and need to huddle together for warmth. After the mum has settled down from the delivery and is comfortable leaving the box for food or water, you can change the bedding so the babies don’t have to lie in their own… shall we say… well, you get the picture. If you have a very small litter, you might want to provide them with a heat lamp, too.

Here are Libby's newborn babies, cuddling together for warmth in the birthing box as Libby gets something to eat.

Here are Libby’s newborn babies, cuddling together for warmth in the birthing box as Libby gets something to eat.

If your mother cat knows you, you can start handling the newborn kittens immediately, but only for a few moments at a time. They are very weak at this stage so be sure to support them fully when you pick them up, and keep them warm in your hands.

The mother will take care of all the newborn kittens’ needs: feeding, toileting, cleaning, and loving, so as the human in the family, you do not need to do anything yet. Just keep an eye on things and if your mother cat or any of the kittens seem uncomfortable in any way, or if one or more kittens do not suckle, take the whole family to the vet. Especially check your mother cat’s vaginal area for chronic bleeding, discharge, or bad smell. If any of these symptoms are present, take her to the vet.

 

Kitten Growth Chart — Labour and Delivery Day

Here Libby proudly shows off her newborn kittens. There are four of them. The fourth one is playing Spot the Kitty. Can you find her?

Kitty Delivery

As your kitty is getting close to her delivery day, she is sharing her excitement with you by being extra affectionate. Lots of lap-sitting, purring, and following you around. She might also get more vocal. Just go with it. She will need your love and reassurance, and she is not going to shout obscenities at you like your mother probably did at your dad, so this delivery is something to look forward to.

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Here Libby proudly shows off her newborn kittens. There are four of them. The fourth one is playing Spot the Kitty. Can you find her?

Here Libby proudly shows off her newborn kittens. There are four of them. The fourth one is playing Spot the Kitty. Can you find her?

Make sure she has a comfortable place to deliver her kittens. If you build a kittening box for her, you should cut a doorway that is low enough for her to get in and out easily but not low enough for kittens to climb out. About three inches from the floor is a good kittening-box door height. The delivery process is messy, so make sure you line the bed with old t-shirts or towels that you don’t mind throwing away. Wash them with natural detergent first to get any scents out of them, and don’t use any fabric softener or dryer sheets. Your cat won’t want to deliver her babies in a nest that smells of perfume or other animals, and a strong scent can also confuse the new kittens and prevent them from finding their mother’s nommy nipples.

As you get close to delivery day, take your pregnant cat to the vet. The vet will make sure that the pregnancy is progressing nicely and give you some advice for the delivery. If your cat has any health problems, tell your vet so she can advise you how best to proceed.

Most vet-grade pet food companies will produce a “mother and kitten” cat food. This is the best for your mommy cat’s health and the health of the growing kittens, and you should start to feed it to her about half-way through her pregnancy.

If you work full time or go to school, you might not be present for delivery day. I checked Libby every day when I got home from work and sat with her all day Saturday when she was supposed to be getting close to her delivery day, but nothing. Then on Sunday morning I checked on her to find her in her kittening box with a litter of four clean, fluffy kittens having their breakfast.

Libby was lucky, but not all cats have the natural instincts for giving birth or caring for their new kittens, especially if it is their first time. Also, some cats might develop medical problems or complications. Keep a close eye on your kitty as you get close to her delivery day, and if you notice any vaginal discharge or signs of illness, take her back to the vet.

Here's a close-up of the four babies suckling. It's their first meal!

Here’s a close-up of the four babies suckling. It’s their first meal!

Labour

You will notice your cat is going into labour when she:

  • Starts pacing around the house
  • Pants, meows or purrs more loudly than usual
  • Licks herself a lot more than usual, especially in the vaginal area
  • Stops eating
  • Hides
  • Vomits

Labour can last for up to 24 hours. If it seems to be going on for too long, or if your kitty starts to bleed before giving birth, take her to the vet.

Preparing for Delivery

If you are present for your kitty’s big day, there are a few things you should be ready to help with.

  1. First, as well as a box, get a few things prepared:
    • a very soft washcloth, in case you need to help her clean off her kittens
    • your vet’s number in case you need advice or have a problem during the birth
    • your cat carrier, in case you need to rush your cat to the vet
    • a kitten bottle and kitten formula, in case you need to help her feed the kittens
  2. Wash your hands thoroughly and remove any sharp jewelry, just in case you need to help.
  3. Stay nearby so you can keep an eye on proceedings and reassure your cat, but don’t hover.

Cats have contractions just as humans do. You will know a kitten is coming when the contractions are about two or three minutes apart.

You should see the amniotic sac come out; it looks like a thin, clear sac filled with fluid. The kitten will be inside. Kittens usually come out head first or rear paws first. Kittens are born one at a time with twenty to thirty minutes between each kitten. Each kitten is followed by a placenta.

Once a kitten emerges, your cat should lick the amniotic sac and fluid off the kitten’s face, which stimulates breathing. You might hear the kitten make tiny mews. Your cat will likely eat the placenta and lick the rest of the amniotic sac off the kitten as she waits for the next birth.

Problems

  1. The mother might not lick off her kitten’s face immediately, especially the first kitten. If she doesn’t lick the sac off the kitten’s nose and mouth within a few seconds of birth, the kitten will asphyxiate and die. In this case, you should gently pick up the kitten, being sure to support its head, and use the soft washcloth to gently wipe the amniotic sac off the nose and mouth. Then give the kitten back to the mother and she will likely take over.
  2. The mother might not pay attention to the first kitten after it is born, even if you clean the kitten’s nose and mouth. In this case, gently pick up the kitten again and use the soft washcloth to clean the amniotic sac and fluid off the entire kitten. This should cause the kitten to start crying, which will probably get the mother’s interest.
  3. Although your cat will probably eat the placenta, keep a placenta count. Each kitten should be followed by one placenta. If you suspect that a placenta has not come out, take your cat to the vet. It is important that she eliminate all the placentas, or she will get an infection and die. DO NOT try to pull a placenta out, and do not cut an umbilical cord with scissors.
  4. Keep an eye on your cat as she eats the placentas; if a placenta is still wrapped around a kitten, your cat might chew on the kitten by mistake. In this case, gently remove the placenta from the kitten’s body. Be very careful not to pull on the umbilical cord as any tension could cause an umbilical hernia, which will have to be surgically repaired when the kitten is older.
  5. A kitten might get “stuck” partway out, especially if the mother is getting tired (maybe five or six kittens into the delivery.) If a kitten is partially out and your cat can’t push it out for about five minutes, you can very gently pull the kitten the rest of the way out. Make sure you only pull during contractions. If the kitten doesn’t slide out with your help, take your cat to the vet immediately.
  6. If a kitten does not seem to be moving or breathing after birth, it is possibly stillborn. This is not unusual and doesn’t indicate any problems for your mother cat or the other kittens. Try reviving the kitten by briskly rubbing it with a soft, warm, damp washcloth. If you do have a stillborn, you will have to remove it and dispose of the body. Most cats will instinctually eat a stillborn kitten.
  7. If your mother cat is in hard labour – pushing and having close contractions – for an hour and no kitten has come out, take her to the vet.
This is Reed on her first day out.

This is Reed on her first day out.

Taking Care of Kittens and Mom

After a normal birth, your new kittens should start to suckle. Your cat might wait until she has delivered all the babies before she allows them to suckle. If she ignores them and doesn’t let them nurse, or if they are trying to nurse but can’t get any milk, you can feed them the kitten formula with the kitten bottle. Then take the whole family to the vet to see if the vet can solve whatever your cat’s problem is.

If your cat eats up all the placentas, she will not be hungry, but if she doesn’t eat them, you might need to feed her some nutrient-rich food, such as egg yolk or liver, to help her keep her energy up during the delivery. Offer her water between deliveries, too. During the first day keep offering her food and water in her box, because she might not want to leave the kittens.

Some people say that if you touch a kitten, the mother cat will reject it. If your mother cat is comfortable with you, this is not true. She will have no problem with you helping and encouraging her during the birth. If you are fostering a feral cat or a lioness, though, you probably shouldn’t touch the kittens.

CONGRATULATIONS! You are now a kitty-grandma.

Kitten Growth Chart — Cat Pregnancy

Here's a sneak-peek at the newborn kittens in their kitten box, with Baker peeking in... plotting...

For the next nine weeks, follow along with Spot the Kitty as Libby’s kittens grow. Today we’re going to take a look at cat pregnancy. Join us again next week to learn about newborn kittens.

This is Libby a few days before she gave birth. It is difficult to tell from this angle, but her belly was all over the place!

This is Libby a few days before she gave birth. It is difficult to tell from this angle, but her belly was all over the place!

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Cat Pregnancy at Spot-the-Kitty HQ

Libby was a stray cat we picked up in Beijing, China. She was living in a boarding school grounds, and eating handouts from the children. There is a big holiday in the middle of winter in China, so we took her home for the holiday, hoping to find a new home for her when school came back into session.

A couple of weeks after her arrival, Libby started to show signs of pregnancy — her belly was getting wide, a symptom that cat breeders refer to as “burro belly”, and her nipples were a little pink and slightly swollen because her mammary glands were starting to get ready to produce milk.  That’s when we knew our house’s cat population was going to grow. From the point that Libby was starting to show her burro belly, we had five weeks to prepare for the arrival.

Symptoms

Along with burro-belly, other symptoms of kitty pregnancy can include changes in cat behavior — most cats eat more when they are pregnant, of course. They are eating for four or five! Also, some cats become more affectionate in the days before giving birth.

During the last few weeks of pregnancy, you should see your cat exhibiting nesting behavior: looking for a nice secluded, soft place to give birth. Libby walked into every cupboard and closet we opened, checking it out for possibilities.

Preparing for Delivery Day

You should provide a couple of different locations for her to consider. Offer her a large box with a doorway cut into it and an old towel or sweatshirt inside, and put it in an out-of-the-way place in your house. Of course, there is  no guarantee that she’ll give birth inside. You might also want to pregnant-cat-proof your house. Make sure there are no little cozy hidey-holes she could get into, like the bit that hangs down under the sofa or a crawl-space under the kitchen cupboards, and keep closets closed. It is also a good idea to keep the doors closed to any rooms you don’t want her giving birth in, like your bedroom or the furnace room.

Some people think it’s a good idea to give a pregnant cat milk, but that’s actually really bad for her. Cats can’t digest cow’s milk and it will give her diarrhea, which could lead to dehydration. If you want to enhance your pregnant cat’s nutrition, you can buy special mommy and baby cat food, or pregnant cat supplements. Some pregnant cats will appreciate some egg or some fish added to their diet, too. Some cats experience a bit of morning sickness right about the time they are starting to show. If you find that your cat is not eating or drinking, or has any other troubling symptoms, you should take her to the vet.

Cat Gestation and Pregnancy

Cats have a Y-shaped uterus, with fetuses growing on either side, which is what creates the burro shape. When female cats go into heat, they show obvious signs: your cat will become very vocal as she calls all the male cats in the neighbourhood to come visit, and you might see her crouching down with her butt-end up in the air, waving her tail. She might also leave her scent all around the house, so male cats will be able to sniff her out more easily, by rubbing her face, head, and sides up against everything, and scratching her claws more frequently. Since cats can go into heat and ovulate for about a week, it is quite possible for the kittens in one litter to have different fathers. Cat gestation is nine weeks, so if you know when your cat was mating, you will be able to work out when she will give birth. For more information on cat gestation and pregnancy, look at WebMD.

Join us next time to read about what to expect on delivery day and how you can help your pregnant cat have a comfortable and successful birth.